Big rig accidents happen more often than they should. But why doesn’t the trucking industry do more to protect its drivers and other travelers out on the roads?
Before we answer the question, “Is commercial truck training enough?” it’s important to understand how deadly these accidents actually are. Truck driving is one of the 25 most dangerous jobs in America. And there’s a reason for that. Each year, around 918 truck drivers lose their lives while on the job.
More retailers and consumers are embracing the quick-shipping mentality. As a result, many drivers are suffering from workplace fatigue and/or depression. This makes it unlikely that the number of accidents will drop in the near future.
So, what safety regulations are out there? Are they enough to protect truck drivers and other travelers? Keep reading to learn more.
How Many Accidents Happen Each Year?
A quick Google search will tell you that around 550,000 trucking accidents happen each year. That’s more than 1,500 crashes a day involving big rigs. But the reality is even more devastating.
A big rig weighs 20 to 30 times more than a passenger car. It also requires 20 to 40% more distance to stop. As a result, accidents with a semi-truck can be deadly for car occupants, motorcycle riders, cyclists, and pedestrians.
In the year 2019 — which is the most current year of record offered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — there were 2,204 deaths from accidents that involved commercial trucks. Of that number, 2,132 were occupants in passenger cars. This means 97% of victims were riding in a smaller vehicle.
Needless to say, commercial trucks can be extremely dangerous. We believe that more can be done to reduce risks for all travelers, big rig drivers included.
How Often Is the Truck Driver at Fault for Truck Accidents?
Truck drivers are more likely to get in an accident than drivers of other vehicles. But that doesn’t mean they are always at fault.
Because these rigs are bigger and slower than other vehicles on the road, their drivers are less likely to tailgate, change lanes, and practice unsafe driving. With that being said, truck drivers aren’t immune to making bad decisions.
Here is a list of the common causes of commercial trucking accidents, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration::
Negligent maintenance is estimated to play a role in nearly half of all commercial trucking accidents. Due to its weight, size, and frequent use, a big rig requires lots of upkeep.
This means that a trucking company should regularly maintain brakes, secure cargo, and replace tires. When these kinds of tasks are neglected, a minor mechanical malfunction can quickly lead to a deadly accident.
Driver error is another leading cause of trucking accidents. Drivers of smaller vehicles are more likely to drive recklessly. But errors made by truck drivers do still happen.
Truck driver errors can arise from fatigue, distracted driving, road rage, or recklessness. In any case, when the driver of a truck doesn’t stay safe and alert, the result can be disastrous.
Speeding should really fall under the category of driver error, but it happens so frequently that it deserves special mention. Because brake failure is always a risk for big rig drivers, it’s especially important that these large, heavy vehicles are operated at safe speeds.
What Does Truck Driver Training Cover?
So what type of training does a commercial truck driver need to have to be able to operate such a large, dangerous vehicle?
To become a truck driver, an applicant must meet a series of requirements:
- At least 18 years of age to drive within state lines
- At least 21 years of age for driving from state to state
- A valid Social Security number
- A history of safe driving
- Proof of residency within the state of application
- Proof of insurance
- Ability and willingness to submit to regular drug tests and medical checks
Meeting these requirements is only step one. From there, a driver must obtain a commercial learner’s permit and then a full commercial driver’s license (CDL).
It usually takes about seven weeks of full-time training or several months of part-time training before a driver is ready to take the CDL exam.
The training will usually cover these subjects:
- On-road driving experience
- Safe transportation of hazardous materials
- State-specific information about licensing and regulations
- Towing trailers
- Using air brakes
- Driving combination vehicles
- Driving tank vehicles
While all of this might sound like it would be enough, keep in mind that training is not actually required by the federal government. Unless state regulations say otherwise, a driver may attempt to take and pass their CDL exam without undergoing any behind-the-wheel training.
There is a new federal mandate for entry-level training, but the implementation of this rule has been postponed until Feb. 2022. All drivers who receive their licenses before this time will not require any additional training to continue operation.
Is Current CDL Training Enough?
With the current driver shortage, the trucking industry is already under a lot of pressure. But does this let them off the hook? We don’t think so.
Unfortunately, there’s a big push to loosen the restrictions and make it easier for drivers to earn their CDLs.
On the state level, many governments are allowing third-parties to administer driving tests. And at the federal level, waivers are in place to allow drivers to continue work without renewing their expired licenses.
Of course, the pandemic has brought about unprecedented times. However, it’s likely that the reduced requirements for current and upcoming truck drivers will serve to increase the impact of big rig accidents in the near future.
What Should I Do If I Am Injured in a Trucking Accident?
If you do become involved in a trucking accident, keep these tips in mind in the aftermath of the collision:
- Remain at the scene and report the crash, even if there are no injuries
- Seek medical treatment, even for minor injuries
- Obtain the truck driver’s name, contact information, license number, and insurance
- Obtain the trucking company’s information
- Take photos of the scene
As a final tip, it may be wise to consult with an attorney after a trucking accident. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and/or damages, especially if the driver acted in a reckless or negligent manner.
The consequences of a trucking accident can be devastating. By driving defensively and being aware of the hazards of sharing the road with these large vehicles, you can reduce your risks as you travel.